One in eight people over the age of 65 or one every 70 seconds will receive the devastating diagnosis of Alzheimers.
Alzheimers, the most common form of dementia, is an incurable disease that is progressive. It does not only affect the cognition of the individual but also their personality, behavior and function. Given the effects of the disease, Alzheimers has an enormous impact on the individual, their family and society as a whole.
To add to the severity of Alzheimers, a large percentage of people with the condition are not diagnosed until they are in the moderate to advanced stages. Unfortunately, this causes a delay in treatment and an inability for the patient and family to prepare for the future.
Living with someone and providing care to the person with Alzheimers can be time-consuming and incredibly challenging as a loved one moves through the various stages.
As a caregiver, however, it is important to remember that you are not alone and that there are actions you can take to help you through the process.
u One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver to prepare for the future is to learn about the disease and what you may expect.
u If possible, choose a primary care provider who has knowledge and experience with geriatrics and Alzheimers. Go to the medical appointments with your loved one and be willing to share your concerns with the provider.
u Contact The Alzheimers Society, which can provide knowledge and resources to you and your loved one.
u Consider joining a support group. You will gain more information and tips in caring for your loved one from others who are going through the same experience.
u Have your loved one identify someone to be their health care representative as well as someone who will have financial power of attorney. It is important they do this before they are unable to make this decision. Encourage them to talk about their wishes regarding their future medical care and complete an advance directive.
u Ensure that you, as the caregiver, have a support network in which you have time for yourself. That will be essential in keeping you healthy and able to continue to care for your loved one.
u One of the most challenging parts of Alzheimers is the behavioral disturbances that sometimes occur. Try to be patient and kind to your loved one and yourself. These behavioral disturbances are usually beyond their control and part of the disease process. Do not argue with them when they believe they are right because you will not win the battle. Instead humor them, redirect them and change the subject.
u As difficult as it may be, do not reject the idea that placing your loved one in a different care setting is sometimes the best plan for everyone.
u Lastly, smile and continue to have some fun in your life. You deserve it and they would want that for you.
Amanda Shields, ANP, is a nurse practitioner who specializes in geriatric medicine and works in the Woodburn and Silverton area. For more information, call 503-982-2174.